Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have handed a 10-year jail term to a prominent dissident for "subversion of state power."
The Suining Intermediate People's Court sentenced Liu Xianbin on Friday in a trial that lasted little more than two hours, his wife said.
Liu, who previously served time in prison in connection with the 1989 pro-democracy movement, was only able to utter a brief protest at the very end of the trial, according to his wife, Chen Mingxian.
"I am innocent. I protest," Liu told the court.
"His right to defend himself was taken away," Chen said. "He was only able to say one thing."
Chen said court officials treated Liu's defense lawyer rudely during the proceedings, frequently interrupting him during the hearing, which began at 9.10 a.m. and ended at 11.30 a.m. local time.
"They interrupted Liu Xianbin while he was talking many times," Chen said. "Liu was unable to make a clear and coherent argument in his own defense."
"The court officials also rudely interrupted [lawyer] Ma Xiaopeng while he was summing up his arguments at the end," she said.
"They told him to keep it simple."
The Paris-based media freedom group Reporters Without Borders condemned Liu's trial as "unfair."
"Reporters Without Borders is appalled to learn that cyber-dissident Liu Xianbin was sentenced to 10 years in jail today on a charge of inciting subversion of state authority after his right to a proper legal defense was repeatedly violated," the group said in a statement on its website.
It said Liu, who was first detained on June 28, 2010, and held at the Suining detention center, was allowed only one meeting with a lawyer ahead of the trial.
"The trial itself was a sham that lasted just a few hours," the group said.
It called for a review of the trial. "The conviction should be overturned and Liu should be freed without delay," it said.
According to the prosecution, Liu had published a number of articles on overseas websites between April 2009 and February 2010 which "vilified and slandered" the ruling Communist Party.
State officials singled out articles titled "100 Days Out of Jail" and "The Main Forms of Pro-Democracy and Street Protests," saying the writings libeled China's leaders and called for an end to Communist Party rule.
Prosecutors called on the court to hand down a heavy sentence.
Chen said the case relied on a recorded statement from Liu's 13-year-old daughter, made with the help of her teacher and without the parents' consent.
Liu's lawyer had objected to the evidence on the basis that it was obtained illegally from a minor without parental consent, but his objection was overruled by the judge, she said.
"The lawyer said ... this ran counter to the child's interests and to the U.N. Convention on the Protection of Children," she said.
Ma said he deeply regretted that he had been unable to complete his summing up statement.
"We made a full argument for his innocence," Ma said. "The key point was that his articles weren't written with subversive intent."
"When he came out of prison in 2008, he had to work to keep his family, so that's why he wrote them."
Ma said he would wait to see Liu on his next visit to discuss whether or not to appeal.
"I haven't seen him yet," Ma said. "We will have to wait until they send us the judgment."
Liu, 43, was among thousands of Chinese intellectuals and political activists who signed Charter 08, a document co-authored by jailed Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo which called for sweeping political change in China.
He was detained by authorities last June. One of Liu's articles praised Tan Zuoren, an activist serving five years in jail for subversion after documenting shoddy construction that contributed to deaths in China's devastating 2008 earthquake.
Liu served three years in jail during the 1990s for his role in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, and received a 13-year jail term in 1999 for trying to set up the Sichuan branch of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP).
Wuhan-based former CDP activist Qin Yongmin slammed the sentence handed to Liu, but said it didn't come as a surprise.
"For a law-abiding citizen to express their views or opinions openly is a normal event in today's world," Qin said.
"[The government's] methods will have the opposite effect to what they intend," he warned.
'A strong warning'
Qin, who was himself released only last year after serving a 13-year jail term for his involvement with the CDP, said fellow activists would rally round to help Liu's family during his jail term.
He said the Sichuan authorities appeared to have handed out a number of harsh sentences to activists in recent years.
"It's probably because there's a serious corruption problem in the local government there, so the sentences they hand down are particularly harsh," Qin said.
Liu was released in November 2008 after serving 9 years and four months in Sichuan's Chuandong prison, taking into account time spent in detention and time off for good behavior.
Lawyers and activists said the sentence was intended as a strong warning to online activists in the wake of recent calls for "Jasmine" pro-democracy gatherings, which began six weeks ago on the overseas-based news site Boxun.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.